The Shallows & other new Blu-rays

THE SHALLOWS, Jaume Collett-Serra, director/Sony Blu-ray  When Steven Spielberg changed the face of American popular cinema with his classic Jaws, he was well aware that the mechanical shark he was saddled with would not be convincing if seen for lengthy periods (and its prolonged appearance chewing up a boat is when it is at its least convincing). No such problems for the director Jaume Collett-Serra in this tense and entertaining Spielbergian riff, which plays like it might have been a subsidiary episode from the original film or from one of the indifference sequels (though The Shallows is infinitely better than any of the individual Jaws sequels). With the excellent bikini-clad Blake Lively taking on the murderous aquatic beast single-handed, every possible ounce of suspense is wrung from the scenario, and (what’s more) the film’s CGI shark (created using techniques not available to Spielberg) is completely convincing. This one is something of a gem.

BRAQUO SEASON 4, Olivier Marchal, director/Arrow BLU-RAY & DVD  If you consider yourself an aficionado of the most uncompromising crime series on TV — and you haven’t yet watched Braquo — you’re missing something; though it comes with a health warning. This flint-edged, dyspeptic and utterly compelling series (now up to season 4 and often described as the French The Wire) is so uncompromising — even nihilistic — in its view of French police work that it makes such gritty rivals as Spiral look positively rose-coloured. Apart from its impeccable ensemble playing (with Jean Hugues-Anglade mesmerising as ever as a compromised Parisian cop finding himself drawn ever deeper into realms of corruption and violence after the suicide of the leader of his squad), the really provocative aspect of the series lies not so much in the visceral impact of the filmmaking but in the uneasy dialogue it sets up with the viewer. As the team is drawn into ever more brutal territory in pursuit of a variety of criminals, with an internal affairs team (presented in highly unsympathetic fashion) hard on their heels, it’s hard to decide how much director Olivier Marchal wants us to sympathise with the beleaguered maverick heroes. And it’s a measure of the sheer skill of Braquo that most viewers will spend their time veering between being on the side of the French cops as they perform another outrageous stunt (including armed robbery) or shouting at the screen: ‘What are you doing?’ Never comfortable viewing, the series is essential for those who like the equation: crime drama=strong meat.

THE YOUNG POPE, Paolo Sorrentino, director/Dazzler/Spirit Entertainment  The medium of television came calling for the director of The Great Beauty in 2016 with an unorthodox project, one that gave Paolo Sorrentino leeway for his predilection for sumptuous visuals. The Young Pope features left-field casting with British actor Jude Law as the ‘first American Pope’, Pius XIII, born Lenny Belardo, and the youngest pontiff in the history of the Catholic church. Smoking, drinking Coke and bloody-mindedly taking on the hidebound prejudices of the church (not to mention the Machiavellian Vatican politics), Pius is a radical, combative figure, and Sorrentino enjoys both the internecine battles and the opportunities for opulent production design. The 10-part series is available as a four-disc set on both DVD and Blu-ray and on digital.

THE MISSING Series Two, various directors/RLJ Acorn  Following the success of the BBC drama The Missing, the much-watched series returns with a new case and a new cast including Keeley Hawes and David Morrissey as the parents of a missing child, while Tchéky Karyo reprises his role as tenacious missing persons detective Julien Baptiste. The year is 2014 and a young British woman stumbles through the streets of a small town in Germany and collapses. Her name is Alice Webster (played by Abigail Hardingham), and she went missing from the very same town, of Eckhausen, 11 years ago. Her return sends shockwaves through the small community, especially when it is revealed that she may hold vital clues to the whereabouts of another missing girl.

THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, Anthony Mann, director/Eureka Entertainment Director Anthony Mann’s classic is one of the most powerful westerns of the 1950s featuring his default star James Stewart. The film is now on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD). Held by many to be the pinnacle of the five Westerns they were teamed on, The Man from Laramie marked the final collaboration between director Mann and star Stewart before they fell out. Stewart stars as a resolute vigilante, obsessed with finding the man responsible for his brother’s death. Among the suspects are an arrogant cattle baron (Donald Crisp), his sadistic son (Alex Nicol) and his ranch foreman (Arthur Kennedy). A psychological revenge saga of Shakespearean proportions, and masterfully filmed in Cinemascope and Technicolor, The Man from Laramie is one of the great Westerns. The Masters of Cinema Series presents it in a new 4K restoration in a Dual-Format edition for the first time in the UK.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT & VAULT OF HORROR, NIGHTMARE, various directors/Final Cut Entertainment Blu-ray  The perfect Christmas gift for aficionados of vintage British horror: two from Hammer rivals Amicus Films and one from Hammer itself. Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror are both adaptations of the classic EC horror comics of the 1950s, and if the first film was notably more successful (both artistically and commercially), at least Vault of Horror is issued here in its uncut version and is diverting enough. Nightmare is one of Hammer’s taut black-and-white psychological thrillers made in the wake of the success of Psycho and Les Diaboliques, and is directed by efficient journeyman Freddie Francis, who worked for both Hammer and Amicus.

MIAMI VICE Various directors/Fabulous Films Blu-Ray  The pulse and the rhythm of a glamorous resort is juxtaposed against the steamy haunts of the drug underworld in this groundbreaking action series starring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, now restored and in high definition on Blu-ray. We are given all 111 episodes from all 5 seasons of a show which had an unprecedented fifteen Emmy Award nominations for their first season. The cost of one episode was more than that of the entire annual budget of the Miami Police Department’s Vice Unit. After two seasons, Johnson threatened to walk from the series as part of a highly publicized contract dispute. Mark Harmon was ready to replace him but executive producer Michael Mann convinced Johnson to stay, resulting in him becoming the highest paid actor in the history of a television series. It meant Johnson had to turn down leading roles in Die Hard and The Untouchables due to his contract. Guest stars included Michael Madsen, Bruce Willis and Benicio Del Toro. Music was integral to Miami Vice. The theme song was so popular that it also garnered two Grammy Awards itself in 1986. Often credited as the first show to match a scene to a piece of popular music (rather than made-for-TV music), the Miami Vice production team would spend $10,000 or more per episode buying the rights to original recordings by contemporary artists.

FRIGHT NIGHT, Tom Holland, director/Eureka Blu-ray  After the indifferent remake, it is a particular pleasure to welcome this distinctive horror outing on Blu-ray as it still packs a punch. And as TV horror host Peter Vincent, Roddy McDowall channels his best Vincent Price vibe. It goes without saying that the film never looked as good as it does in this Blu-ray incarnation.

THE HIRED HAND, Peter Fonda, director/Arrow Blu-ray  The reputation of Peter Fonda’s directorial debut has risen considerably over the years, and this understated, elegiac Weston looks better than ever and this new transfer. Unsurprisingly, the acting honours are snatched by the always reliable Warren Oates.

MAGNUM, P.I. Various directors/Fabulous Films Tom Selleck won the Emmy (1984, Lead) and Golden Globe (1985, Best Performance) for his moustachioed detective Magnum; small comfort, perhaps, as contract commitments to Magnum, P.I. famously cost Selleck the role of Indiana Jones. In the show’s final season, the producers gave a nod to his sacrifice with the episode “Legend of the Lost Art”, which parodied the film. An array of guest stars appeared on the show including Sharon Stone and Frank Sinatra. Glen A. Larson – who accounted for 513 hours of television and 21 combined seasons from 1976-88, with shows Magnum P.I. Quincy, Knight Rider and The Fall Guy. Larson based the unseen, playboy, novelist character Robin Masters, on bestselling novelist Harold Robbins. Robbins was one of the first novelists to be prominently featured in gossip magazines earning him the title of “The World’s First Rock Star Author”. Orson Welles provided the voice of Robin Masters, whose face was never seen in the show.